1st Session, 42nd Parliament
Volume 150, Issue 272

Wednesday, March 20, 2019
The Honourable George J. Furey, Speaker

Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship

United States—Safe Third Country Agreement

Hon. Mobina S. B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, my question is also for the Leader of the Government in the Senate, regarding the Canada-U.S. Safe Third Country Agreement. On the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York, United States, it is famously written:

Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free . . .

But since the election of the new U.S. president, who vows to build a wall, many asylum seekers feel unsafe because of the anti-refugee and anti-Muslim measure adopted by the current U.S. administration.

In order to avoid being sent back to the U.S. under the Safe Third Country Agreement, many refugees and asylum-seekers come to Canada at irregular border crossings where the Safe Third Country Agreement does not apply. Unfortunately, the reality of the agreement is that refugees and asylum seekers who come to Canada at normal points of entry are sent back to the U.S., a country where they feel threatened and unsafe.

Leader, when will this government look at the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States?

Hon. Peter Harder (Government Representative in the Senate): Again, I thank the honourable senator for her question and her long-standing interest in migration and refugee issues and, in particular, the Safe Third Country Agreement.

I remember, when the agreement was first being negotiated, that we had some discussions then and were not always of the same view. I believe that the Safe Third Country Agreement is an important component of Canada’s overall refugee protection regime. It has worked well for Canada in the number of years that it has been in place. But as the government and, in particular, the minister, has acknowledged, this agreement and other agreements can always be improved.

To that end, the minister has had and continues to have high-level discussions with our American friends to see whether or not and how this agreement can take into account some of the recent trends that have been of concern to the Government of Canada and Canadians.

Senator Jaffer: Leader, as you mentioned, you and I did not agree when this agreement was being set up. I certainly have the same concerns now that I had then, including that to return people who do not feel safe in the U.S. under the Safe Third Country Agreement is not helpful to these asylum seekers. We are a country that welcomes asylum seekers and we are a country that welcomes refugees. Why would we send back refugees and asylum seekers who do not feel safe in the U.S.? When is the minister going to give us an answer as to what the agreement is?

Senator Harder: Again, I want to assure this house and all Canadians that Canada is not only a signatory to refugee protection agreements, but takes them very seriously. If I could say it this way, I think Canada is a model in terms of how countries that are in accord with the Geneva Convention on the Protection of Refugees ought to act. Having said that, the Safe Third Country Agreement with the United States provides an ability to coordinate the protection regime in both of our countries to the benefit of not only the would-be claimants, but also the integrity of the refugee determination process itself.

Again, these regimes can always be improved. The minister has had ongoing discussions and continues to have them to see how the Safe Third Country Agreement can be improved, but the government is of the view that it is an important component of our refugee protection and asylum system.